This week’s DESIGN YOUR LIFE is by Laina B., a good friend from business school who basically dragged me through Operations Management Studies. Without her help, lets just say I might not be an ‘alumni’. Laina now lives in Charlotte and is a financial analyst for a global manufacturing company.

In the past two years she has lived in three different cities (moving every six months!)- Ann Arbor (MI), Charlotte (NC), Detroit (MI), London (UK), and Charlotte (NC). Despite her globe-trotting, hectic lifestyle, she has managed to maintain many intentions I find difficult to juggle while living in one city. Below she explains how she managed to stay focused and intentional throughout her travels.

by Laina B.

I am a Pisces, which means that inherently, I tend to make lots of plans and dream of big things, but often let my mind and schedule get cluttered with too many of them, and poof time goes by without actually DOING what I set out to do. Living my life with the intention of DOING what I plan, instead of simply PLANNING what I SHOULD do, necessitates knowing when to let go of those plans that are not feasible or will not significantly affect my happiness. This provides me with a focus on actions and activities that will ultimately lead to my lifelong happiness. I want to be an active participant in my own life! By taking a step back and examining my life, I have realized that the following dreams/plans are most important to me: eating healthy, working out regularly, cooking more/learning new recipes, saving money/budgeting, traveling, meeting new friends, keeping in contact with friends and family, and learning and trying new things on a regular basis. Below are some of the things that I have done and continue to do to make sure that I am actively participating in my life and living with intention.

The 3-4-5 Plan
In January, I moved back to the States from London. While I was living and working over there I had little time and even less motivation to stay on top of my workout routine (I worked many 60+ hour weeks, the weather sucked, and all I wanted to do was sleep, play in London or travel when not at work) and had set out to get back into it when I returned. My friend and co-worker in Detroit told me about his new year’s resolution to start bringing his lunch to work more. Initially, we were just trying to keep one another motivated, but with me working in Charlotte and him in Detroit, it wasn’t working fabulously. That is when we decided to make rules and consequences/rewards to keep ourselves on track. This resulted in what we now refer to as our 3-4-5 plan.

Our rules are simple:
3 – Bring lunch AT LEAST 3 out of every 5 work days
4 – Work out AT LEAST 4 days a week for AT LEAST 4 hours total
5 – Make a home made meal for dinner AT LEAST 5 days a week

We picked an end date for this plan of June 14th (in time for my beach week – see below!). We do not restrict what we eat, but have both chosen to primarily keep the foods simple and healthy. Our intention is to create habits that allow us to reach our goals in a healthy and realistic way without burning out. To keep one another accountable, we have made a tracker in Microsoft Excel (yes, we are both Financial Analysts….nerds) that we fill in weekly and consolidate. We each get “paid” $5 for each piece (lunch, dinner, work-out) that we meet each week. Thus, if I were to go out to lunch 3 times in one week and met the rest of the requirements, but my friend met all of the requirements, I would owe him $5 for that week. At the end of our 5 month challenge or plan, we will see who ultimately owes the other, and it will be payout time. It will also be time to see if we truly have reached our goal – creating healthy habits that not only contribute to our health, but also to our financial health (eating out is expensive!).

Grocery shopping guidelines
In order to make sure I have a multitude of healthy options, that I save money and avoid extra trips to the store, I have 3 rules for myself when grocery shopping:

1) Always start in Produce section – if I fill my cart up early with fruits and veggies, it helps me avoid buying unnecessary garbage later on.
2) Always bring a list and follow it. This allows me to stay focused and avoid temptation.
3) I have stopped going down every aisle and just focus on getting the items on my list.

I also always try to make sure to buy one or two new or different things each time. While I always need to buy my staples, buying one or two new things in place of a staple makes the food at home more exciting, encourages me to find new recipes and tempts me to go out less. In the past year, I have had the employee ringing me up comment on the healthiness of my groceries 9 out of every 10 trips, which tells me that I am on the right track!  Also, my grocery costs have decreased by about $40-60 per trip since I started following these rules.

Intention to live overseas
Jess and I took a class together at Michigan’s Business school that required us to create a long-term goal that we would not be able to achieve in the semester. We had to set an action plan and start working towards reaching this goal throughout the semester and beyond. My goal was to work in the U.K. within the next 5 years.

Last April, a year after graduation, I was offered the opportunity to do a 5-6 month rotation abroad in the UK for my company. While the job ended up being less than ideal with a lot of hours and stress, I still did my best to make the most of my 5.5 months in Europe by taking numerous trips around the UK and traveling around mainland Europe – including trips Barcelona, Paris, Munich, Amsterdam, and Croatia. I did what I had planned and then some, and am very proud of reaching this goal so much earlier than I had hoped!

Connect with friends
Being happy to me means being surrounded by people I care about. One way I plan to reach this goal this year is by planning a week long beach vacation with friends from all over the country that I have met in different eras of my life. I love bringing people from different groups of my friends together and I love seeing all of them as often as I can. I have learned that happiness will usually not be brought to me on a silver platter and thus, I can’t just sit back and wait for people ask me to hang out or invite me on a trip. I need to take control of my own happiness and be the one to plan the things I want to do, the things that will make me happy.

Get involved in new activities
Similar to the last point, in moving around so much in the past 2 years, I have learned that making friends takes effort, even for someone as outgoing as myself. I love my alone time, but after a while it gets old. I like having a lot of different groups of friends and a multitude of activities to do each week. It is for this reason that I have joined clubs/groups/teams in every city I have lived in the past two years. Most recently, I joined CHOA – Charlotte Outdoor Adventure club. This week I am going indoor rock climbing with the club and also going on a 6 mile hike through the NC Mountains past numerous beautiful waterfalls. In London, I joined groups which led to me joining a book club and going on the 12-mile hike through the English countryside. My first 6-month stint in Charlotte, I joined a kickball league which led to me finding a whole new group of friends that I still hang out with and actually play kickball with again now that I am back in Charlotte. Finally, when I was in Detroit I joined an adult recreational softball team and also started my own kickball team. The groups/activities above have helped me transition from college to the real world and from city to city throughout the past two years.

Learning to cook
Slowly learning to cook new things and trying new recipes weekly. This helps me reach my 5 nights of home-made meals a week and also helps me create my focused grocery shopping list!

Joined a gym
Another organization I have joined since moving to Charlotte is the YMCA. Charlotte has some of the best YMCA’s I have ever seen. I was a member when I lived down here previously, and it was the first thing on my to-do list when I moved back. By attending fitness classes regularly, I keep up on my fitness routine easily because I rarely get bored. They offer such a wide range of classes from yoga and Pilates to Cardio Funk (hip hop dancing class that leaves me feeling renewed and ecstatic after each session), Spinning, Sculpt and Kickboxing. Another plus is that many women in my office are also members. We are all constantly encouraging one another to make it to classes as often as possible. Often times going to classes in large groups. It’s a great way for us to bond, have fun and stay in shape – better than a happy hour (but not a replacement)!

Found a roommate
When I found out that I was moving back to Charlotte last November, I decided that, in order to lower my monthly bills without sacrificing the things I wanted, like location, I needed to find a roommate to live with me in what I hoped would be an affordable apartment in Uptown Charlotte (Downtown Charlotte is called Uptown, I have no idea why). Searching for a place and roommate all while living and working in the UK was not an easy feat with the time difference, working 12+hr days and traveling on weekends! However, I succeeded by using my network and Facebook. I messaged an acquaintance living in Charlotte, and found out that she was also looking for a roommate and was willing to check out the places in my absence! Now, my monthly bills are significantly lower than during my previous stint in Charlotte, my commute is shorter or equivalent, and my new place is nicer and large enough to hold both my furniture and my roommates’ furniture! On top of all of those benefits, I have started to make some new friends through my roommate.

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